How To Come Up With Better Ideas

Whether or not you’re a digital creative, ad creative, graphic designer, industrial designer, package designer or accountant, ideas and concepts are a necessary part of taking your work to the next level. So how come some people have lots of them and others struggle to come up with just one or two?

It’s all about the process.

Whether we are aware of it or not, our thinking patterns follow a logical sequence to arrive at a conclusion. But if you can become more in tune with the process, you can open doors to creativity that you never thought possible.

Understand – you really have to have a clear understanding of what you need to achieve. That can be an end result, a message that needs to be communicated, or a look and feel. If your thinking at the beginning isn’t clear, chances are your idea won’t be either. Do some research, do some reading but get your brain rev’ed.

Keep it simple and percolate it. If the project is complex, break it down into manageable chunks and tackle them one at a time. Your brain is a sponge. Absorb all the info and allow it to percolate. Don’t feel you have to get started right away. Let your subconscious do some of the heavy lifting.

Allow yourself time to download. Great ideas and concept are not dwelling on the surface. Great ideas have to be mined. You have to drill down to find them. You have layers of clichés, obvious thoughts, undrawn conclusions and idea stereotypes to get through before you reach the area of golden ideas. Sweep out the expected crap but don’t feel badly for doing so.

Great ideas are often the most unexpected. Once the crap is gone, you’re in a better headspace to challenge yourself to think in terms of opposites. Great comedy is built upon the element of surprise – you didn’t see the punch line coming. So are great ideas. No offense, but if 10 people in a room all think of the same thing – it ain’t great. Nor is it surprising.

Another technique: ask yourself “why not?” Ask it a lot! “Why not” is another way to get into the opposite headspace. Conventional wisdom tells us things are done a certain way. If a certain way was so great, you wouldn’t need that killer idea to make your thing better. So question everything and look at it in a full 360 degrees.

Never close your eyes. Ideas and inspiration are all around us. I often find ideas where I least expect them – like looking out the window of a cab.

To use a tired cliché, the more times you step up to bat, the greater your chances of hitting one out of the park. There is such a thing as trying too hard. But remember this: great ideas don’t come when you want them – they come when they’re ready. A legendary, much-awarded creative team I knew, would work on dozens of campaigns, just to hit one out of the park. They taught me that luck and timing play a part in it. To improve your odds do more.


About Jill Atkinson

From concepts and smart headlines to original content and transmedia storytelling, to television pitch materials, directors treatments, long format writing, blogs and web copy with SEO, I write it all. I'm a writer, copywriter, and a content writer. My job is to help you say it better with ideas and language that get noticed. With copy and content that engages customers and audiences and ideas that make a connection with them. Ideas that generate a response. Materials that can sell a pitch. When you work with me you're working with the big boys: Maclaren, BBDO, Taxi, Sharpe Blackmore and also a great bunch of mid-sized agencies, b2b shops, a national television network (CBC), 15 specialty channels (History Channel, National Geographic, Showcase, Action, IFC, BBC Canada, + many more) and start ups who have taught me everything I know about how to get you noticed, remembered and sold. Or clicked. Or talked about. There are lots of ways to try to sell your products or to sell people on your offer or to engage them in your content and your show. But there is only one way to get it done right and on strategy. My experience is a foot in the door for your brand or your television idea . And no matter the size of your project, my commitment and attention to detail remain the same, big or small and always on deadline. Great conversations have to start somewhere. Give me a call or shoot me an email Check out my work at
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5 Responses to How To Come Up With Better Ideas

  1. chadschomber says:

    Excellent post. Please triple star, bold, underline and highlight “UNDERSTAND”. I’ve chased my tail so many times trying to define the goal. If it wasn’t clear in the brief, I’ve learned to ask lots and lots of question — employing the Socratic method.

    Thanks for the post.


  2. Laurence Smink says:

    I like the notion of letting ideas percolate. That’s the process of lateral thinking, which is where ‘surprising’ often comes from.

    I’d also suggest another step: Refine ruthlessly. Nothing is precious. When you come up with an idea, kick it down the hall, throw it out the window, spray paint over it, do everything you can to wreck it. If it breaks, it probably wasn’t worth keeping. If it doesn’t, polish it up and add it to the presentation deck.

    Unfortunately, these things all require time, which is a rare luxury these days.

  3. michael says:

    Excellent post Jill. I specially enjoyed your comments on allowing time to download because sometimes we’re so fixated on generating ideas that we don’t simply let our brains think.

    Also, the notion that great ideas are unexpected is spot on. The more we can expose ourselves to dissimilar things (culture, foods, art, etc) the ideas start to flow. Great stuff.

  4. howie says:

    When I was starting out, the creative process seemed somewhat mystical to me. Where did those great ideas come from – even if they were my own! I finally forced myself to analyze the process and I came up with, what I call, “The Four ‘I’s of Creativity”.
    First “I” – Intuition. Before the brief, the strategy, the planning, your creative gut is telling you something. It could be worthless, or it could lead to IT.
    Second “I” – Investigation. Feeding your analytic brain everything the client knows and everything you can find out.
    Third “I” – Incubation. Letting it steep in your brain. Thoughts, ideas, feeling coming together in your sleep, in your car, etc.
    Fourth “I” – Inspiratiion! All of a sudden, it’s there. The big idea. And you ask yourself, “Where did that come from?” Simple.
    The Four “I”s of Creativity. Make sense? Listen to Jill and follow my stories and insights at Thanks, I’m going to bed now. 🙂

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